Modern Poetry in Translation (Series 3 No.5) Transgressions
Published by Modern Poetry in Translation
Transgressions (Modern Poetry in Translation Third Series, No 5) focuses on crossings that might be risky, unusual, unconventional, and which might in the past have invited censure and punishment, or might do so still. Translation has often been a sort of smuggling, a dealing in the illegal or the illicit, and has been dangerous (and productive) in that sense. Featuring new work by: Pascale Petit - whose work The Huntress is short-listed for this T.S. Eliot prize. Ruth Fainlight - who offers us new translations of the important Mexican poet Victor Manuel Mendiola. Marilyn Hacker - one of the best mediators between contemporary French and Anglo-American poetry. Also new versions of Cavafy, and from Michael Hamburger a never-before published translation of a text by Gunter Grass. Cover by Lucy Wilkinson. Editorial by David and Helen Constantine.
Four Mansi songs, translated by Dorothea Gruumlnzweig and Derk Wynand.
Meles Negusse, Wild Animals, translated by Charles Cantalupo
Hubert Moore, Removals
Sasha Dugdale, Lot's Wife
Pascale Petit, three poems and a translation of a poem by Zhou Zan
Andreas Angelakis, Constantine in Constantinople, translated by John Lucas
Constantine Cavafy, two poems, translated into Scots, via the French, by John Manson
Victor Manuel Mendiola, Your Hand, My Mouth, translated by Ruth Fainlight
An extract from Bernard O'Donoghue's translation of Sir Gawain
W.D. Jackson, two versions of Boccaccio
Helen Constantine, Banned Poems
Jean Follain, seven poems, translated by Olivia McCannon
Doris Kareva, three poems, translated by Ilmar Lehtpere
Hilda Domin, To whom it happens, translated by Ruth Ingram
Lyubomir Nikolov, three poems, translated by Clive Wilmer and Viara Tcholakova
Rilke, four poems from The Book of Hours, translated by Susan Ranson
Amina Saiumld, four poems, translated by Marilyn Hacker
Jeff Nosbaum, versions from the Aeneid and the Iliad
Hsieh Ling-y, By the Stream translated by Alastair Thomson via the Spanish of Octavio Paz
Yu Xuanji, two poems, translated by Justin Hill
Kaneko Misuzu, four poems, translated by Quentin Crisp
Gunter Grass, The Ballerina, translated by Michael Hamburger
Robert Hull, One Good Translation Deserves Another
Olivia McCannon on Peter Dale's Tristan Corbiere
Timothy Adès on Colin Sydenham's Horace
Paschalis Nikolaou on Richard Burns
Belinda Cooke on Sailor's Home: A Miscellany of Poetry, and Piotr Sommer's Continued.
Four Mansi Songs Translated by Dorothea Gruumlnzweig and Derk Wynand
The Voguls still had shamans until the eighties of the twentieth century. They were intermediaries between human beings and the highest god, whom even the shaman was not permitted to see directly. The shaman is a person who accepts solitude, isolation, overexertion as his burden as bridge-builder, holy helper and healer. When he falls into a trance, a sense of the synthesis of all things flashes through his mind. In the ritual performance of the following song, the shaman sings the tribesmen who have come flocking in into birds, into wild geese and wild ducks.
For a long time, only men were admitted to these most sacred occasions. Lennart Meri, the Estonian playwright, film maker and; later; President of Estonia, has made films about the Waterfowl People; as he calls them, the Ob-Ugrians.
The shaman's own voice transforms itself in this song into the voice of a goose - it has magical powers that let those gathered around believe they will be of sound limb. The shaman, accompanying himself on the goose, gives the song to his tribesmen. Insofar as he describes the people as geese, they are, as it were, also made to resound.
A cosmic event is here depicted: The earth begins to turn. The world's out of joint. Or the earth is reborn once again. In harmony with this event, human beings are to be helped. This suggests a thought process that intertwines the fate of the individual with the whole, in this case, with Mother Earth
Shaman's Waterfowl Song Little sons, little sons! As gooseflock stream have you streamed as duckflock stream have you streamed. Little sons, little sons! What ails you what fails you? Little sons, little sons! My raincoat from the Hill-Luck-Spirit is - behold; spread out. My coat from the Wood-Luck-Spirit, which my mother has stuffed with live sable is; behold - spread out. Little hearts, little hearts! What ails you what fails you? Sing to me with a merry goosecackling voice, little sons! I sing for you with the singing voice of the morning cuckoo, little sons. And when I open my rivergoose cacklemouth overnight overday strong bones strong flesh; behold; will rise from the earth; behold; from the water. We have this wish; behold; this want we plead because of this wish; behold; this want we need a happy day we need hale foot, we need hale hand. Little sons! Then when you beseech me and once I beat my wings the earth will go all a-tremble when I beat my wings again the water will go all a-tremble. And when my Ob-water sense rises when my sea-golden Ob-golden holy sense rises and I wave the holy staff with its seven notches clutched in my goodside hand the hunched holy earth will go all a-tremble. May my warm fur, my warm fur boots with their bit of warmth make your bones grow make your flesh grow.
Pascale Petit The Banquet
In the end, there's only one way to stop the dead harming the living, that's what the Guayaki Indians believe, so they're helping me build a grill.
All week I fasted, until I too chanted 'human fat is very sweet'. The shaman cuts up the bodies, separates arms and legs from trunks. But only a daughter can shave off her parents’ hair and bury it along with her mother’s womb. I boil my fathers penis, offer it to a pregnant woman who wants a son. The meat roasts slowly. Fat crackles and drips along the slats and is sucked up by old women.
Only when all traces of blood are cooked do we carve and hungrily eat - each mouthful slips easily down my throat, served with palmito buds to weaken the force of their flesh. I wrap the leftovers in ferns to be eaten cold tomorrow. Every bone will be cracked, the marrow extracted. When the banquet is over, my friends wash me with sap from the kymata creeper.
Bernard O'Donoghue From Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
While the lord was busy by the borders of the wood the bold Gawain kept to his soft bed. He lay there till daylight shone on the walls, beneath his bright bedspread, screened all around. As he dozed there in peace, he warily heard a little noise at the door as it stealthily opened. He raised his head up out of the clothes and slightly lifted the edge of the curtain, peeping out cautiously to see what it was. It was the lady, most lovely to look at, who shut the door after her, in secret and privately, and stole towards the bed. The hero, embarrassed, lay hurriedly back down, pretending to sleep. She stepped forward silently and stole to his bedside, lifted the curtain and crept inside, sitting down softly on the edge of the bed. And there she stayed, to see if he'd wake up. The hero lay low some considerable time, pondering inwardly what all this might mean or amount to. It seemed pretty strange, but still he said to himself, 'It would be more fitting to ask her openly what she is after'. So he awoke, and stretched and, turning towards her, opened his eyes, pretending to be surprised. Then, as if to be safer by prayer, he blessed himself with his hand. With her pretty chin, and cheeks of mingled red and white, she spoke most sweetly with her small, laughing lips.
Two extracts from a work-in-progress: Boccaccio in Florence: Three Stories and a Dream, translated and adapted from The Decameron
Boccaccio starts The Decameron with a description of the Black Death or magna mortalitas, as it came to be known, which he claims to have witnessed in Florence. While Boccaccio does not go so far as directly to question the social or religious fabric of medieval society, he sometimes comes remarkably close to doing so and an unmistakable atmosphere of carpe diem permeates the whole framework as well as the individual stories of The Decameron, in which ten young people retire from the plague-infested city of Florence to the countryside, where each of them tells one tale per day in idyllic surroundings which are beautifully - almost surrealistically - evoked.
The first of the following translations/adaptations of II,v (the second is of III,i) &; incorporates passages from Boccaccio's introductory description and imagines how the whole collection might have started, but presumably didn't.
Boccaccio's prose is transposed into the Venus and Adonis stanza and Chaucerian couplets respectively because both Shakespeare and Chaucer borrowed - directly or indirectly - not only stories but aspects of their world-view from their great precursor. So much so that a number of lines from both of them have transgressed into these versions.
If at the end of his life Boccaccio returned to the Dantesque vision of things (in his Life of Dante and commentary on the first seventeen cantos of the Divina Commedia), so did Chaucer in his so-called Retractation at the end of The Canterbury Tales. In more recent times one need go no further than Tolstoy to find an author turning against his own earlier writings. And there are, of course, many parallel instances not only in the history of literature but of societies in general - as anyone who was young in 1968 and has survived into the age of Aids will be aware.
Whether humanity will ever make much actual progress between transgressing and regressing in such matters remains to be seen. Unfortunately, the twenty-first century's plague seems unlikely to encourage much liberation in the popular mind. In The Dream Al quale ella, quasi ridendo disse: 'Buon uomo, el mi par che tu sogni.' Decameron II,v May, 1348.
The sun was sinking Behind the campanile. Boccaccio knelt Inside the still unfinished duomo, thinking Of what he'd seen, and wondering how he felt About the Immortal Architect... Could He Have planned this plague, this Great Mortality? Whole houses, great palazzi, emptied of Their occupants, the dead piled up outside With oozing tumours. Rat-packs freely roved Deserted streets, where pigs and dogs had died From mauling corpses or infected rags, And looters staggered under bursting bags. Abandoned children cried. The sick were left To die alone, their bodies left to rot. The stench of dead or dying people bereft Him of all words. But some he knew were not So easily shocked. All forms of strange excess Flourished - helped stave off horror and distress. Men dropped down dead in the street by day and night. Coffins and grave-plots were a rarity. Rough gangs of paupers dug deep plague-pits right Across old churchyards, charging a fat fee To stow the dead in tiers with a thin layer Of soil between. And more for a priest or a prayer. But most were thrown in like dead goats or sheep... Which stopped him trying to pray. Instead, he sat And closed his aching eyes, and fell asleep, And dreamt he'd travelled home to Naples - at The market, where he'd come to buy a horse. But all the horses were half-dead, or worse. And all their grooms and riders were half-dead And putrefying slowly. Stinking meat, Alive with maggots, and the grinning head Of a huge boar, were all there was to eat. One stall had bursting figs, egg-plants, milk, honey, But no one left alive to take his money. And so he waved his bulging bag of gold To bring them back to life: five hundred florins. A pretty girl strolled past. From how she strolled He knew she'd like to go with him to Florence. She smiled and said she was his bastard sister. I'm illegitimate too, he cried, and kissed her.